Everything in France requires paperwork: ID photos, three copies of form A, two copies of your passport, your bank card, your bank routing information, your mother’s mother’s maiden name, two copies of your childhood pet’s vaccination records… And what’s especially thrilling about the need for paperwork, is that it changes from place to place. Maybe one man who wants to sell you TV service needs only your bank routing information. Great! Fanstastic! Let me just go get that and I’ll come back tomorrow and we’ll have TV by the end of the week! The next day, when you arrive with said information proudly in hand, the next man working at the TV service tells you quite plainly and with the French face of judgment that he can’t possibly sell you the television service without at least three other forms of documentation. And of course, it will take three weeks. Mais, bien sur.
Our apartment doesn’t have Internet. And it certainly doesn’t have cable TV.
Now if I were a bettin’ woman, I’d put down some solid money that, when given the choice, the Roomie and I are picking the Internet way before we’re picking the cable TV. With that said, we decided to forgo France’s famed “box”, which gives you Internet, TV and telephone hook up (horror stories abound of the box taking up to two months to get hooked up). Instead, we opted for the usb key, which plugs into your laptop and gives you instant wireless access to the Internet. Cool. It should work tout de suite. This should make things easier.
After an initial visit to the Internet/TV/phone haven known as SFR, we went through the options, decided on the key and proceeded to be told that we could not purchase until we had opened a bank account. OK, certainly Sir, that seems reasonable.
One week later.
Bank cards in hand (a miraculously easy experience, from what I understand), the Roomie and I walk up and ask for Internet. Of course you can have Internet! (I should have suspected something with the SFR man’s ease). Let me just ring you up.
I could go into some serious details about the time expenditures it takes to sign up for anything in France, even when one has the proper documentation. The guy at the computer often will sit there for ten minutes filling in boxes, adding your information and clicking around. I swear, getting my bank account, the man entered my address at least four times.
About halfway and 3 photocopies into signing up the Roomie for the key, the man asks us for our facture. Ummm, our what? (Five minutes of trying to understand what he’s asking for ensues) Oh! You want our Attestation de Logement (proof of housing). Oh yes, we have that, but not with us. My Roomie manages to work her German magic and convinces the man that we will bring it in tomorrow. Ok fine.
Now Mr. SFR Man wants our RIB (bank routing number). We don’t have that with us either, but surely our bank card, with all the applicable information, will suffice, non? No, no. We must also submit the RIB.
At this point, another discussion ensues, this time ending in the other SFR man telling us that if we rush to the bank, we can get our RIB out of the ATM.
So off we rush, down the street and both manage to wrangle the RIB out of the ATM. Success. Back to SFR. Finally, a miracle. Roomie manages to buy the key.
Now my turn. I won’t go into the full details again, for both of our health. But let me just say this – and remember it, my friends – in France, a government issue, valid, California driver’s license, is NOT valid ID. And even after the SFR man calls up his super secret head boss on the telephone, this is still the case. So even if you have your RIB, your bank card, your attestation de logement and money, do not expect to get that little Internet key without your passport. Don’t even imagine that it’s possible. Because it’s not.
So there I stod. Keyless and therefore Internetless. The SFR is in Thionville, which means a separate car ride there and back. And it’s late at night anyway, since Roomie and I have both worked all day. We can’t, even if we had the will, make it happen tonight. I also have my first class that I’m running by myself (with the teacher there, but me making up the lesson plan and leading the class) the next morning and work to do on the computer.
And then I’m done.
This is the first time since I’ve arrived in France that I nearly lose it. The Roomie can tell. I’ve gone silent. If I speak, I may cry. She can tell. I manage the words “I’m hungy” – which is kind of funny, in retrospect, but also true, because I haven’t eaten since noon and now it’s 7pm and I am really hungry. My Roomie, brilliantly seeing this opportunity, offers for us to walk through the mall and look for food. Maybe, she suggests, we can go to Fonzie.
Fonzie is the kitschy new American themed diner in Thionville. And you have to believe that I love nothing more than a genuine attempt at Americana by Europeans. Why, you ask? Because it’s so damn hard for them to get it right. And they want to. They want to get it right so bad. Their enthusiasm makes the failures that much more entertaining. So we went to Fonzie. And amongst the giant photos of Marilyn Monroe and diner signs, with Elvis crooning Christmas songs in the background, I had a burger and fries (accompanied by the world’s smallest portion of coleslaw and a teeny piece of corn). My Roomie had a soda (with ice! She proclaimed, why do they do that!? It makes my teeth COLD!). And even though it was wrong, it was oh, so right, too.
I still don’t have proper Internet, though my Roomie has been sharing her key with me. Our first vacation is at the end of this week, so I’m going to wait until after the holidays now to get it. If you’re curious, the hamburger at Fonzie’s wasn’t too bad, the main fault being the use of cheese sauce in the place of melted cheddar (think Mexican queso, but less spicy and less tangy) and the lack of lettuce. Sometimes you take what you can get.